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As students, we seem to get quite the reputation for being highly vocal with our demands, and often, that vocalism is what helps to bring about real social change. Despite our increasingly unequal society, which simply is not helping the people who need it, we students still hold the mantle of being a massively collective social group that, together, can place pressure on any transgressor-institution of our choosing. In effect, this makes the student body its own political force, which is why media tends to paint a negative or antagonistic picture of student protests or organisations. But despite this, we have a voice. What about people living below the poverty line? Do they even have the chance to be able to express themselves? Despite our own grievances, it’s easy to forget that we’re in a relatively privileged position compared to those living below the poverty line.
Having visited the Morecambe Foodbank, (started in 2012 by Mrs Annette Smith and the pastor of the G.Y.M Methodist church in Morecambe), in the throng of sorting donations, I was welcomed by a volunteer named Roger who showed me around their premises – the centre of the G.Y.M Methodist church in Morecambe – which serves as the primary headquarters of the foodbank and the location that people arrive at when they need to make a claim. They receive the majority of their donations from local businesses (a very encouraging trend), such as Booker Wholesale and Greggs, as well as local church communities and collection boxes placed in local ASDA supermarkets. Even Lancaster University helped play a part; the Exodus project on campus helped to provide 850kg of food for the community foodbank since this January!
When I asked if these were the primary sources, Mrs Smith informed me that they “didn’t used to be…the public’s perception of foodbanks has changed, the public image of food management and food waste is high on the public agenda, and there is a very high expectation for supermarkets and shops…to be managing their waste better.” Despite this obvious benefit, which helps to set a precedent that would seemingly benefit all involved, the issue then becomes storage, which is a difficult issue; if you can’t store perishable food, or give it away, it gets wasted – encouraging the refusal of more perishable items, subsequently creating the perception that there isn’t a need for the donations. It’s a surprisingly difficult conundrum, which serves to highlight how much more these volunteers could do if they simply had better storage facilities, but the most unfortunate fact of all this is that they’re completely private and receive no support from any government authority. The support they could receive is held back, because they cannot run home-deliveries (everyone who works there is a volunteer), for the fear that if their service is abused, it would open themselves up to unscrupulous media criticism.
The widespread generalisation of the poor as deserving of their position is propaganda that is often used to target foodbanks in an attempt to discredit their services – perhaps because it distracts from the fact that their usage statistics (foodbank usage is unfortunately high) proves the current system is failing poor people and requires substantial reform. The manager of the foodbank is already certain that reporters from a particular national newspaper have been attempting to find ways to damage their reputation, which is a vile practice not worthy of a conscientious journalist. Bringing this issue forth, Smith informed me that they rarely receive any fraudulent claims, because they give food out on a voucher system; you can only claim food with a voucher, issued from various social services, which entails a rigorous line of questioning, which would seed out the few ‘bad apples’. Thankfully, the foodbank retains the support of the public and local business, and in exchange for a relatively low fee, the Trussel Trust give staff training, logistics, legal and media support to them to continue their good work.
Yet the simple fact that should be highlighted here, is that foodbanks should not exist in the first place; that foodbanks have become such a lifeline for many people is a sign of a government which is failing many of its people. What makes it all the more insidious is the way in which they seem to be exacerbating this with cuts to council funding, disability and benefits, all basic funds which go towards the less fortunate in society. The manager informed me that claims ‘double over winter’, as poor housing conditions (such as poor insulation, damp and mould) means heating bills increase, to the point where people have to choose between starving, and freezing. Surely it is despicable that people living in the 21st century should have to make that choice? What makes this situation worse is that we are living under a government which, worryingly, seems to revel in exacerbating poverty.
The work of charitable organisations such as this cannot go without mention, and if you want to help make a difference to people in the local area, the Exodus project on campus will always welcome volunteers, and donations. If you would like to directly help the foodbank, visit the G.Y.M Methodist Church in Morecambe, on a Tuesday or Friday, between 9-11 am for donations.
For more information, you can visit their website at: https://morecambebay.foodbank.org.uk/